Sustainability in words and facts at EMNLP2021: from "Trash Talk" on the beach to SustaiNLP 2021

by Silvia Fabbi

Sustainability is an increasing trend in AI and NLP. To this topic was devoted SustaiNLP 2021, the second edition of the Workshop on Simple and Efficient Natural Language Processing, taking place in the last 3 days of EMNLP 2021 Conference in Punta Cana (Santo Domingo). The topic was first systematically raised in 2019 by researcher Emma Strubell, Ananya Ganesh, Andrew McCallum in their famous paper Energy and Policy Considerations for Deep Learning in NLP. From that moment on, great attention was devoted to reduce the impact of AI technologies. This includes also an approach to low or zero coding, i.e. avoiding unuseful lines of code, as Siemens CIO Hanna Hennig wished for in her talk at last Web Summit 2021 in Lisbon.

Researchers of EMNLP 2021 collecting rubbish on the beach. (Foto: Sascha Rothe, Michal Stefanik and Michael Bugert)

But NLP scientists and researchers are not only theorizing how to reduce the impact of their work. In the framework of the EMNLP 2021 a group of researchers in presence in Punta Cana arranged a Trash Talk. Don’t get the title wrong, it’s literally meant: organizer Sascha Rothe, senior research scientist in software engineering at Google, asked the colleagues on Whova (the app used to connect conference’s attendees)  to meet on the beach and collect the rubbish while speaking about NLP. As a result the group collected six bags of rubbish from the paradisiac beach of Punta Cana. “We stopped only because we run out of bags and out of hands to carry them” said Rothe. Definitely a best practice to import to other conferences: well done guys!!!

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